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Foundational Arts

Mural Painting and Missionary Theater in New Spain

Michael K. Schuessler

Publication Year: 2014

The languages of two hemispheres collided when Spain conquered Mexico, and as a result, a dynamic expression of visual and dramatic arts emerged. Mural painting and missionary theater quickly became the media  to explain and comprehend the encounter of indigenous peoples with Christ and the crucifixion, as well as with heaven and hell.

In Foundational Arts Michael K. Schuessler asserts that the literature of New Spain begins with missionary theater and its intimate relationship to mural painting. In particular, he examines the relationships between texts and visual images that emerged in Mexico at two Augustinian monasteries in Hidalgo, Mexico, during the century following the Spanish Conquest. The forced combination of the ideographical tradition of Nahuatl with Latin-based language alphabets led to a fascinating array of new cultural expressions.

Missionary theater was organized by ingenious friars with the intent to convert and catechize indigenous populations. Often performed in Nahuatl or other local languages, the actors combined Latin-based language texts with visual contexts that corresponded to indigenous ways of knowing: murals, architectural ornamentation, statuary, altars, and other modes of visual representation. By concentrating on the interrelationship between mural painting and missionary theater, Foundational Arts explores the artistic and ideological origins of Mexican plastic arts and literature.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction. Texts and Contexts: "Bookish Architecture," Mural Painting, and Theatricality in Colonial Mexico

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pp. 3-29

A detailed look at the development of a unique early Indo-Christian literary expression reveals a close relationship between the dramatic and plastic arts, a cultural and generic syncretism that began in the second decade of the sixteenth century.1 As a result of the unexpected encounter between two cultures and the gradual synthesis of two representative and ideological traditions, ...

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Chapter One. Toward a Literature of Foundations

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pp. 30-57

During its early stages, the literature of New Spain included works of a marked historiographical nature, whose formal and thematic characteristics are defined by the fact that they are extra-literary, and that their purpose—within a historical context—was far from emulating a traditional work of literary fiction that might entertain Cervantes’s “curious leader.”1 ...

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Chapter Two. Renascent Genres in New Spain

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pp. 58-89

Both the genesis and development of New Spain’s missionary theater, analyzed in the previous chapter, were an almost exclusive product of a didactic tradition born during the European Middle Ages and based on a rudimentary dramatic performance, although modified in order to adapt to a unique situation: ...

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Chapter Three. Iconography and Evangelization

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pp. 90-123

The relatively few surviving examples of the thousands of square meters of mural painting that once covered the interior walls of monasteries, churches, and processional chapels of New Spain, built at the request of the three principal evangelistic orders, constitute an iconographical representation ...

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Chapter Four. The Last Judgment: Mural Painting and Missionary Theater

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pp. 124-158

Fernando Horcasitas has located the most detailed reference to the Spanish-American Apocalypse, the day in which the Final Judgment is to take place, in the Doctrina cristiana en lengua española y mexicana por los religiosos de la Orden de Santo Domingo (Christian Doctrine in the Spanish and Mexican Languages by the Order of Santo Domingo): ...

Appendix. The Last Judgment

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pp. 159-176


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pp. 177-206


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pp. 207-216


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pp. 217-224

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About the Author

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p. 238-238

Michael K. Schuessler is professor of humanities at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Cuajimalpa, in Mexico City, where he teaches courses dedicated to Latin American art and literature, pre-Columbian Mexico, and colonial Mexico. He received his PhD in Hispanic languages and literatures from the University of California, Los Angeles, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599134
E-ISBN-10: 0816599130
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816529889
Print-ISBN-10: 0816529884

Page Count: 237
Illustrations: 35 photos
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indians of Mexico -- Missions -- History -- 16th century.
  • Theater -- Religious aspects -- Catholic Church -- History.
  • Religious drama -- History -- 16th century.
  • Mural painting and decoration, Mexican -- 16th century.
  • Arts and religion -- Mexico -- History -- 16th century.
  • Catholic Church -- Mexico -- History -- 16th century.
  • Evangelistic work -- Mexico -- History -- 16th century.
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